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Practice Notes: Jackets still searching for offense, better power play

Werenski moved back to more 'comfortable' spot at point on second power-play unit.

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider /

John Tortorella has done quite a few things to spark the Blue Jackets' offense.

He's tried just about every line combination possible. He's changed-up the power-play units. He's reinforced the motto "safe is death," with the goal of increasing scoring chances though calculated risks.

Tortorella even refers to defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski as "rovers," now, and has encouraged them - Werenski, especially - to take more offensive chances. Thus far, none of it has worked consistently.

"I'm not a big guy reading the numbers all the time," said Tortorella, who unveiled more lineup reconfiguring during practice Thursday at Nationwide Arena. "Where our lack of consistency is, is how much we play under the hash [marks]. We talk about how we're going to play, I think it's a very good team under the hash [marks]. That still allows skill to happen. I just don't think we're there enough."

The result is a roster with several star players who are slumping offensively, all at the same time.

Captain Nick Foligno doesn't have a point in 10 straight games, the third-longest dry spell of his NHL career. Cam Atkinson has six points (four goals, two assists) in 14 games. Brandon Dubinsky has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 19 games.

Alexander Wennberg has nine points in 18 games, but only one goal and could miss his second straight game with an undisclosed "body" injury. Artemi Panarin leads the team with 13 points, but 10 are assists.

The Jackets have also had the puck less the past nine games. They've gone from a 5-on-5 shot-attempts percentage (Corsi) of 55 percent to just 49 percent, and have been outshot in five of their past six games - including the last three in a row.

Their power play hasn't scored in its past 16 opportunities and ranks 31st with a 9.3 percent success rate.

"We talked about it as a group before practice here in the locker room," said Werenski, who was moved back to his usual spot at the point on the second power-play unit. "It's not that we're not working hard or trying to execute, scoring on the power play, because we are. It's just not happening right now for us."

There's only one thing will change that: power-play goals. There's only one way to score those: shoot the puck.

"We've got to find a way," said Werenski, whose goal 1:09 into overtime Tuesday gave the Blue Jackets their second straight win past regulation, a 2-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens. "I think our mentality right now is just shoot everything and put pucks on net. There's never a bad shot in hockey, especially on our power play and how it's going right now. So, [Friday], I think we're just going to put a lot of pucks on net and have our net-front guys just stand there and bang away. Hopefully, we'll find a few and then we'll get some confidence moving forward."

Werenski's confidence got a boost with the change to his positioning during power-play work. As the "quarterback" of his unit, he can better dictate the flow of action once the Jackets get set up in the offensive zone.He

The Jackets' coaching staff tried him on the right-wing wall for a few games, with the idea that he'd be closer to the net and would get better looks. Instead, Werenski struggled. He missed an open net, trailing by a goal, during a late power play against Nashville on Nov. 7, and had issues settling pucks the past couple games.

Moving him back to the point should help.

"It felt way better to be back there," said Werenski, who has 11 points (five goals, six assists). "Obviously, our power play's not good right now, so they're trying a lot of stuff just trying to get it going, but for me personally, I love being at the top. It's where I feel most comfortable."

Werenski's wingers now are rookie Sonny Milano on the left and veteran center Brandon Dubinsky the right. Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois is the safety valve in the middle.

"I think for a number of players, sometimes you just try to take a little pressure off, because Zach's fought the puck a little bit," Tortorella said. "We've never moved him off that unit. It has struggled with a number of different things we've done. We're going to give Jonesy a chance there [with the other group] … not so much a chance, but just split the units up."

As for 5-on-5 scoring, a simplified approach will be taken there too.

"It's not like you forget how to score or how to make plays," Foligno said. "I think you just need to remind yourself what it is you do well. It's weird in the game of hockey. You can get caught up in the whole, 'Oh, man, it's been eight, nine games that have already gone by.' It's weird how game-to-game things change. Just remind yourself what it is you do well, and have confidence in your abilities."

News & Notes

GROWING PAINS: Milano got back into the lineup Tuesday against Montreal after being a healthy scratch the previous two games. He had no points in 8:21 and logged 1:14 on the power play.

Tortorella's biggest concern in playing Milano is defensive responsibility, which he's trying to instill in the highly-skilled young forward.

"Five-on-five, it's going to take some time with him, just to understand positioning and just stopping," Tortorella said. "He's a bit of a renegade, as far as just … he allows himself to play offensively. He is skilled, and I think he gets a lot done that way, [but] I think that comes into the other part of the game, where I think he needs to have a little bit more structure mentally, in the other part of the game. We're going to keep banging away at him, and try to help him."

Milano has five goals and three assists, but hasn't scored a goal since Oct. 21 against the Los Angeles Kings.

SWITCH UP: David Savard wasn't paired with his usual defense partner, Jack Johnson, at practice Thursday. Instead, Savard worked with Scott Harrington and Johnson worked with Gabriel Carlsson, who's played sparingly as a seventh defenseman after returning from an injury. It's unknown whether Carlsson will play in Savard's spot Friday, but it appears to be a possibility.

SEDLAK, DALPE SKATE: Alexander Wennberg missed another day of practice with what Tortorella has termed a "body" injury, but there was some good news on the injury front.

Among the forwards on the ice for the Jackets were center Lukas Sedlak and forward Zac Dalpe.

Sedlak (ankle) skated three weeks after injuring his ankle at practice Oct. 23. His estimated recovery time was 4-6 weeks. Tortorella said he's day-to-day.

"He just wants to play," Tortorella said. "There's no percentages and there's no timetable with him. When he's ready to play, he'll play. If it's earlier, it's good for the team."

Dalpe skated after missing four games with an upper-body injury that occurred during a game against the Rangers on Nov. 6 at Madison Square Garden. There were multiple reports Thursday that Dalpe was placed on waivers.

If so, it means he's no longer injured. It also means he's likely headed to the Cleveland Monsters, the Blue Jackets' affiliate in the American Hockey League, if he goes unclaimed.

CLOSE SHAVE: Savard followed through with shaving off his beard for charity Thursday, leaving behind only a thick mustache. He did it as part of the "Movember" effort to increase awareness and raise funds to combat men's health issues. Thus far, he's raised $3,400 plus a $5,000 donation from Barbasol on his behalf. An anonymous donor has also pledged to match up to $5,000 in funds that Savard raises.

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